How Great Musicians Elicit Emotions - Part I





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Published on Apr 7, 2012

Rob Steinberg lecture in April 2012. Part 2 of the video is 3 minutes.


Scientists have shown that sudden contrast is what elicits emotions in musical listeners. Performers create these contrasts in the following ways:

1. Horizontal Dynamic Contrasts - the musical line, the shape of the phrase, the shape and dynamic changes within the "breaths" of the piece

2. Vertical Dynamic Contrasts - the volume distinction between the melody line and the accompaniment -- between difference instruments, within a chord, etc.

3. Rhythmic Contrasts - subtle shifts in rhythms, micro second hesitation when an important theme begins (note my use of this device in the Bach Concerto 5 below), feeling the silence in the rests so that the contrast between silence and sound is manifest

4. Mood Contrasts - extremely important - what is the composer feeling. In the Chopin Prelude below, in the forte section, the mood I attempt to convey is that the pain intensifies to the limits in the three loudest notes, compared to the rest of the peace where there is overwhelming sadness. Musicians can use visualization to create mood changes -- imagine various scenes while playing such as seeing themselves praying, hitting a pillow in anger, etc.

5. Source Contrasts -- The most important of the contrast -- that between the field in which the musician is settled when playing and the outward state of the performer. It is the great irony that the musician must leave the world of contrasts -- go beyond ego, intellect and play from the level of pure feeling, pure fluidity to have maximum emotional impact. Very important for a musician to meditate regularly to be able to perform from this level that is the subtlest level of feeling. Yes, intellect does intervene some, but the performer should have mastered the piece so that the consciousness of the musician is almost exclusively on the finest level of feeling.

Believe the videos below demonstrate use of the 5 contrasts (but videos of the greatest pianists demonstrate it even better).

Rob Steinberg was a classical pianist who studied with the top pianists/assistants of the legendary piano teachers of the 20th Century - Artur Schnabel/Leon Fleischer (Peabody Institute), Rudolph Serkin (Curtis Institute), and Alfred Cortot (Paris), and synthesizes their key teachings in this video.

Steinberg plays Bach Concerto No. 5 Largo

Steinberg plays Chopin Prelude No. 4

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